Thursday, July 20, 2006


The Penalty Curse, Part 2

Several of the suggestions that come up when alternatives to penalty shootouts are being sought are not, strictly speaking, alternatives. They are merely intended to heighten the chances of the game being decided in extra time (or, indeed, normal time).

In a sense, this is only going half-way to a true solution. But it's worth taking a good look at some of these penalty palliatives, many of which have considerable merit.

Here are the three most common suggestions, plus a little-known left-field idea which I believe deserves consideration. All the alterations below, let it be noted, would only apply in extra time.

1. Remove players from each side

I don't propose to deal here with the intricate variations on the theme - two men off every fifteen minutes, one man off every five minutes, etc. A brief summary of the pros and cons will suffice.


Certainly, common sense would tell you that this makes a deciding goal more likely. It would probably improve the game as a spectacle as well; one would hope that attacks could be constructed more quickly, and space found more easily.


The remaining players, most of whom would have already played ninety minutes of football, would undergo a brutal test of stamina. Many of FIFA's showpiece events are summer competitions, and the strain of playing on a full pitch with reduced numbers during extra time may prove genuinely dangerous for the health of the players. But it's hard to know without a trial.

2. Remove, or reduce the scope of, the offside rule

The offside rule is controversial enough as it is, and removing it altogether has frequently been suggested; sadly, the trials conducted with no-offside football have, apparently, not been encouraging.


Again, it would make the scoring of a goal far more likely, and would almost certainly ensure an end-to-end game.


In other ways, the game would most likely be adversely affected as a spectacle. The midfield could well disappear in a flurry of long balls, penalty-box jostling, and the aerial clashes so despised by the purists.

3. Allow (or enforce) extra substitutions


More fresh legs, more fresh ideas.


Would it really change anything, especially if a side is already committed to defence?

And now for an interesting one. The following suggestion comes from a letter from a Chinese fan to World Soccer magazine nearly fifteen years ago. I have not seen it mentioned anywhere else; and yet there is much to like about it.

4. Disallow the goalkeeper from handling the ball except within the six-yard area

The six-yard area is one of the most mysterious entities in football. It serves no particular purpose in the modern game, and I've often wondered whether the traditional marking could be put to some practical use. Why not as suggested above?

Breakaway attacks are so often foiled by goalkeepers rushing adroitly to the edge of their eighteen-yard area to plunge at the feet of an onrushing attacker. Goals would surely be more likely were this option to be removed. Set-pieces, for one thing, would become infinitely more dangerous for the defending side.

There are only two disadvantages, as far as I can see. One is that, as with Option 2 above, it may result in endless long balls into the mixer. But once again, we won't know without a trial.

The second is that in a crowded penalty box, handling outside the six-yard area could be very difficult for referees to spot, especially if the game is being played in box-to-box fashion. But with a little help from the linesmen, I believe this would not be an insurmountable obstacle.

Tune in next time for the "genuine" alternatives.

The goalie takes goalkicks from the six yard box, so it's used at least for that. Doesn't it also affect indirect free kicks too?

The marking I wonder about is the semi-circle attached to the 18 yard box. As far as I can make it, it's only function is it marks an area where players can't stand when a penalty kick is taken.
...The goalie takes goalkicks from the six yard box, so it's used at least for that....

That's true of course, but they just boot it up for headers these days, so IMO it barely matters, they might as well use the 18-yard box for that rule. There is also a thing in Law 13 about free kicks for the attacking side taken from the edge of the "goal area" (= 6 yard area):

An indirect free-kick awarded inside the goal area is taken from that part of the goal area line which runs parallel to the goal line, at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred.

...but when was the last time that was used?? As far as I can see, the only time it would be relevant, realistically, is if the goalie takes more than the famous six seconds to release the ball (Law 12), but when was the last time you've seen a goalie pulled up for that?

The only other infringements, as far as I can see, that would require the sort of indirect FK described in Law 13 above are silly things like the goalie handling a goalkick before it reached another player.

And yep, I've often wondered why that lump on the 18-yard line is strictly necessary in the modern game...
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